Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Little More Funk

Several people told me that they really related to my post about the "funk". Today I was looking up a scripture for something else and came across a verse that expressed it perfectly. I'm not always a big fan of The Message paraphrase (though I believe it has its place), and I really haven't liked what I've read of the Psalms in it, but this verse expressed it perfectly. I think I'm going to put it in a prominent place so I can be reminded of its truth. Hope it helps you out!

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I'll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He's my God.
Psalm 42:11 (The Message)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Summer Cleaning

Summer in Salvador is an interesting time. First comes Christmas which compared to every other holiday seems quite low-key. New Year's is a much bigger time; many people travel for the holiday. Then comes January. In a nutshell, Brazilian labor laws guarantee workers one month of paid vacation a year and it seems like most people choose to take that month in January. Vacation time means travel and the majority head to the interior, which basically means "any place in the state of Bahia except for Salvador". When you ask people where they are headed, you have the opportunity to learn many obscure place names, all of which are either Catholic (St. Something-Or-Other), Indian (like Jaguaquara) or some combination of the two. When you ask for further details about the town, you inevitably receive an open invitation to come with them some time and for a brief second you imagine yourself enjoying the summer in a small city in rural Brazil. Then you realize that your friend was just being polite and even if the invitation was sincere, it would involve many, many hours in the car on horrible roads to arrive at a place that has neither a beach nor a mall. But they have family in that town and will have a wonderful time.

The people that stay in town slave away, making up for the lost labor force. HA! On the contrary, the people that stay in town are gearing up for Carnaval. The various acts for Carnaval start holding weekly rehearsals that are open to the public. This week is the largest event of the summer outside of Carnaval: the Festival do Verão (Festival of Summer). It's held out at the exhibition grounds and is a sight to behold. (We have never actually gone but can watch it on television every night from the comfort of our home.) It's many of the acts that will perform at Carnaval, many popular performers from other genres of Brazilian music and some international acts. (One of the highlights this year was Ben Harper.) The festival will end this weekend, leaving us with only a couple of weeks until Carnaval.

All of this fun means that it is impossible to get anything done. And so here I am, at home, cleaning out my cupboards. When I was a girl, I used to love cleaning out and organizing my mom's cupboards. Yes, I understand that makes me odd but I have never shyed away from that label. Somehow, though, when it's your own cupboards it's not as fun. I pulled out my spices checking their expiration dates. As I got to some of the more obscure ones, I was reminded of my ambitions when I bought them. That's right! I think. I was going to start cooking more Indian food. Oh, these are the seasonings for that recipe that I thought looked so good! And so on. As I fill my trash with forgotten food items, I can't help but feel a twinge of guilt. Every day, one of our building's custodians comes by to pick up our trash. To him, it will look like just another example of decadence among the rich. More wasted food. More money thrown away. When I stop to think about it, I'll have to agree with him. It's so easy to be tempted, as I walk through the grocery store or look through cookbooks, by dreams of what I might do or how I would like my life to be. I spend a couple of dollars here, a couple of dollars there, thinking that even if I never make it, it's really not that much money down the drain. But as I look at my full trash can, I realize the effects of that attitude. I'm able to put a total on all of that wishful thinking and it is embarrassing. I want to be a good steward. I don't want to even appear to flaunt my relative wealth by throwing food away. There's still a lot of stuff in that cupboard that is the product of dreaming. I'm going to resist buying more spices and seasonings until I have used it up. (I may have to get creative in how I use it to maintain our current diet efforts!) We'll see how it goes. Lord willing, next year I won't have as much to clean out.


Oh! Check out that new Plugoo thing in the sidebar--you can chat with us in that window anytime we're online. Nothing to download, nothing to sign up for. See how easy I'm making it for you? (Though if you want our MSN or Skype names I'd be happy to provide them!) Hope to hear from you soon!

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Almost a week ago I wrote a lovely post about trying to be more open. And then I froze. What do you say after that? Did I really mean it? I've been thinking about that and my conclusion is yes, I did.

And so, friends, the truth: I'm in a funk. Some of it is coming down off the high of the missionary conference. It's like the days after summer camp--the glow wears off. All the new "I feel so close to God now" feelings get replaced by the mundane. God is closer than before but not as close as when you were getting to spend several hours a day learning about Him and talking about Him and talking to Him. I carried the "high" for several days but by this morning, it was almost gone. Instead of getting to focus on church this morning, my thoughts were filled with the fact that the water bottle was almost empty and even if it weren't we'd still have a problem because we didn't have enough plastic cups, and that I didn't have the books I needed to teach but it probably wouldn't have mattered because the kids were out of control, and that everyone who came up to me seemed to want me to do something for them and no one just wanted to say hi.

Now, this is pretty normal Sunday morning stuff. I can't tell you how many times I've had to run to the grocery store or wing a class or deal with everyone's stuff. (In fact, I understand that I chose this life.) But for some reason today it just hit me wrong. And so after being home for a couple of hours, I realized that I'm in a funk.

I described it to Russ as: kinda lonely, kinda sad, kinda dissatisfied and kinda unsatisfiable all at once.

It's definitely not what would constitute Major Depression, or even Depression, or even depression. I'm just in a funk. I'm sure it will blow over soon enough. I'll get distracted by something and stop thinking about myself so much. That seems to be the source of most of the funks. (A-ha! It's that silly pride problem again!)

It's somewhat tempting to stay in a funk for a little while. I usually give myself a lot of grace during that time. (And by grace I mean Doritos and television.) But when I really think about it, when I bring it before God, I am so embarrassed that I occasionally relish a good funk.

So this post is me banishing my funk. When I started writing, I thought, "I'll be honest about the fact that I'm in a funk." But as I kept going, I realized, "Why should I let myself stay there? I'll be honest about the fact that I just realized how stupid my funks are." It's kind of amazing the effect that blogging about this stuff is having on me. Once I decide to make my thoughts and struggles public, my self-examination reaches a whole new level (two, actually, if you include spell check!). I guess that's why sin thrives in secret, in the darkness. In the light, we are embarrassed by our actions.

I wish I had some sort of killer conclusion for this all. But I don't. As you can tell, I'm just figuring this stuff out. So I'll use my favorite conclusion of all--TADA!!!

(Do I get some sort of prize for including the word "funk" so many times in a single post?)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Way Down South, Part One

We spent last week in Canela, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. (For those of you familiar with the REE-oh Grand, you pronounce this one HEE-oh GRAN-gee.) It's the southernmost state and since we're below the equator, it means that it's colder. Fortunately for those of us from more tropical climes, it's summer. Had it been winter, we just might have seen snow. The climate is perfect for hydrangeas and we were there on the tail end of the growing season. They were everywhere! (Hydrangeas have been a favorite of mine since we went to Sydney so seeing them was a highlight of the trip.)

The weather isn't the only thing that makes this part of Brazil different from Bahia. It's home to many German and Italian immigrants (compared to all our African descendents) so just about everything is different: the food, the architecture, the faces. Russ, with his German background, definitely didn't stick out there! The region is known for production of all kinds of good things: chocolate, wine (and grape juice!), cheese, chocolate, leather goods, chocolate...I could go on forever!

What brought us to Canela was the annual missionary conference. It's a great opportunity to take some time to be fed spiritually. We have class sessions and worship times all in English! I loved getting to hear Russ lead singing in English for a change. I miss that!

It was a powerful week for me. In our women's classes, the speaker, Jean Blackwell, helped us examine our lives and develop in our practice of spiritual disciplines. We spent some time looking at pride. I was already quite convicted of the fact that I need to get rid of all the pride in my life when something else happened to help drive it home.

I went on an excursion to a nearby waterfall on Wednesday afternoon. It was beautiful to stand at the top and look out from the observation deck. But there was another option--900 stairs down to the bottom. (That's more than 40 flights, for those of you keeping score at home!) I decided to go for it and headed down with my friends, all of whom are in much better shape than I am, completely missing the sign that said not to do it if you have asthma. (I probably would have done it anyway since my asthma is mild and rarely a problem. Signs like that just help me remember to pace myself.)

We made it down without much difficulty, only pausing to slow down our momentum. We got to the bottom in a matter of minutes and didn't feel too bad. We checked out watched--over an hour left until we had to be back at the van--no problem.

We scurried up the first couple of flights. We got to the first rest area and I wanted to die. I pulled out my inhaler and did my best to breathe. Eventually I felt able to do the next flight. And then I had to rest again. Unfortunately, there is no other way up--it's walk up those stairs yourself or on someone's back! What followed was an exercise in humility for me. I had to admit, not just to myself but to my friends, that I was too weak to go on. I had to admit it over and over again, sometimes sitting down in the middle of a flight of stairs. My friends were wonderfully patient with me and encouraging but in many ways, admitting my weakness to them was harder than trying to breathe. We reached the top with just enough time to grab a celebratory popsicle before meeting the others.

I had done similar things at waterfalls around the world without problems (Of course, I was twenty years old and in the best shape of my life!) But combined with what I had been realizing about myself though our classes, it was a humbling experience.

So why am I telling you? It's not to say, "Look how humble I am now!". It's with totally the opposite spirit. I am a proud person--I fight pride every day of my life. Today, I am telling you this story as a part of my journey to be open about my weaknesses. As missionaries, sometimes we get put on pedestals. Sometimes our pride gets mistaken for faith. And sometimes we start to believe the things other people believe about us. But in reality, we're not super-Christians. We fight the same things everyone else does. I had a hard time admitting my weakness before I was a missionary and now that I am, it's even harder. If I admit I'm struggling with something will we lose our support? If I am open about my weakness will people question our worth as missionaries?

As you know, this past year has been a tough one for us. God and I have had some things to work out, but through that process I've found a new level of relationship with Him. In that same spirit of transformation, I'm trying to reach a new level of relationship with the people around me. If my weaknesses are known, then His power will seem even greater. At least that's my theory. That's not to say I'm going to let it all hang out--I think some things should remain between me and God. But this year I'm seeking to reach a new level in my candor. I want to be open about my life, the good and the bad.

Ha! I tricked you. I made this look like a chatty post about the missionary conference and then I got all deep. Honestly, when I sat down to write this, I didn't know that those were the words my fingers would find to type. But I'm glad they did.

(Part Two is coming and I don't anticipate that it will be as serious. But you never know!)

Monday, January 15, 2007


Today Russ opened the closet and Samson saw his crate. He started barking and whining for it. I took it down and opened it; he jumped in immediately. Soon though, he was following me around the house frantically. He wanted us to put him in his crate and take him somewhere. This dog keeps us laughing.


Oh, hey--while I'm talking about nothing in particular, I keep hearing about my appearance in the Christian Chronicle but have yet to see it. Could someone please scan it and email it to me? I'll love you forever!

***EDIT--Saw it! Thank you!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Home Again

We Made the Paper!, originally uploaded by russandval.

We did make it home from the missionary conference--about twelve hours later than anticipated. The airport in Curitiba was having major radio problems so everything got super delayed.

We (us and the Parkers) arrived at the airport with everyone else from the conference and had a lot of time to kill. We checked in and then headed over to our friends' house. The kids all played together for a while and we got to spend some more time with Kyle and Leslie. Then we headed back to the airport, getting there just in time to board. We got through security, sat down and, moments later, discovered our flight had been delayed. It kept getting delayed later and later. Talking to the airline, we discovered our plane hadn't even left the previous airport so we headed out of the gate area and back to McDonalds. As we finished eating, they announced our flight so we went tearing back through security. Once we got back to the gate, however, they wouldn't let us board. The guy kept saying we needed to leave security again and go to the counter, which we were reluctant to do while our flight was boarding. Stacey went into the VIP lounge to get more information and while she was in there, I heard them announce Russ and Lauren's names over the PA. (We still don't know why they only announced the two of them!) We left the gate area once more and stood in line at the counter. After a few minutes, we found out that because everything was so delayed it would be quite a long night if we wanted to make our connections. But the airline was ready to put us all up at a hotel, give us a meal, transport us to the hotel and then put us on the flight of our choice on Saturday. The best choice of flight happened to leave at 6:20 AM, so by the time we got to the hotel at midnight and left the hotel at 5:00, we didn't get much sleep. (But still much, much better than spending the night in the airport!)

At the airport on Friday night, I noticed a photographer. His camera was pointed directly at us. We joked about how funny it would be to make the paper but he was taking a bunch of other pictures, too, so we really didn't think we would. But Saturday morning, just in case, I grabbed a paper. And there we were! Tiny, but there!

I spent most of yesterday sleeping. I slept on the airplane from Porto Alegre, slept while the plane stopped in São Paulo, slept on the flight to Salvador, ate lunch and then slept some more and still managed to go to bed at 11:00 and sleep all night long. I'm pretty sure I have a nap in me this afternoon, too. So once I'm done with all the sleeping, I'll share some stuff with you from this week. Until then, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ........................

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Still Around

Yep, we're still here. We took it easy for a couple of weeks while our friends, the Clays, were with us. Now they're gone and we're running around like mad. Russ is doing his first Brazilian wedding this weekend and then on Monday we leave for the Missionary Conference. That means I have a handful of days to 1. do all the laundry and housework I didn't do while Tom and Gina were here; 2. get us ready for the wedding (including getting Russ a suit and figuring out what I want to do differently in photographing this one); 3. make plans for Samson while we're away; 4. get us ready to travel across the country (almost 2,000 miles!). At some point I'll get around to putting away our Christmas decorations, but I don't see that happening before we leave. I also anticipate that I won't be blogging much until after we get back, but I just wanted to let you know what we are up to. I'm sure I'll have a bunch to share after the conference.